Walter Lippmann once wrote, “the adjustment of man to his environment takes place through the medium of fictions.” Walter’s “fictions” resonate with the story I’m about to tell. In the summer of 2007, I lost my compass in life; my wife passed away unexpectedly. The reverberations of that trauma and the implications of her absence have muddled my charted course. However, my encounter with Walter’s essay has provided new directions with which to regain my bearings.
I realize now that the last 10 years of courting and committing to one woman would not have been possible without a narrative: our story together as the inseparable Brenda and Eddie, and our wedding favors of fresh seckel labeled “the perfect pair.” We believed we were constantly in love; we celebrated our love story with words like “cherish” and “forever.” However, the incongruence between our promises and unembellished reality has revealed our fiction; even in death, she remains vivid, a vision, as she was in life; I don’t talk to her parents anymore, though I used to call them Mom and Dad. Our story has met with its implausible end.
Perhaps I am seeking answers by becoming a graduate student again, this time in the study of the effects of stories: Communications. As Walter suggests, fictions come in degrees ranging from delusion to those made self-consciously in science. The physicist employs a narrative in describing nature, a story bounded by the precise knowledge of his margin of error; even scientists tell tales. In the realm of human attachment, our narratives have ramifications as a result of ungovernable emotions. Unlike science, the narrative of social and personal life often turns into putative beliefs taken earnestly but inaccurately as truth. My willful act of committing a woman to memory represents the conflation of sublime, ephemeral emotions with a fictional life; in the everyday bustle, I have forgotten about my story.
But I’m not alone. Those who seek the understanding of, not recovery from, their broken stories – someone who’s lost a loved one, or divorced a presumptive soul mate – may find a solution in the active creation of new meanings; for the end of a story merely marks the beginning, however crude and unsightly it appears in the mirror, of an altogether new narrative indisputably richer and more robust than before. I have begun my new story; she’s 5’7”, has auburn hair, and beautiful brown eyes. I believe in Walter’s assertions about our use of fictions, for “the real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance… To traverse the world men must have maps of the world.” I believe in Walter’s maps.